Thursday, July 29, 2010

On the Road Again - Bangkok

Hottest summer that anyone can remember in Bangkok!

I can attest to that now that I have been here for almost 6 days. It is a 10 minute walk from the hotel to the BTS Sky Train station at Sala Daeng, and by the time I have walked up to the platform, I am soaked. Fortunately, the breezes have been blowing across the platforms and the cars are very nicely air conditioned. So just about the time that I am cooling off, it is off the train and back into the heat. Pants with zip-off legs have been a blessing so far.

I like staying at the Tarntawan Hotel because the staff is very pleasant, the rooms are nice, and it is an easy walk to get to almost anywhere, especially to the BTS Sky Train or the MRT subway. It is also very close to ground zero where the riots were last month. No signs of any more unrest so no worries on that issue.

Sunday was a pretty easy day with some shopping at MBK and Siam Paragon shopping centers. The girls at the embroidery shop, Seven Sis, remembered me and had my logo pulled up in less than a minute. Not bad since it has been two years since I last visited their shop. Two shirts and a hat were done in an hour.

I have been on three photo shoots so far in Bangkok. A klong trip into the back canals of Bangkok, a visit to Wat Po, and a general river trip. David, my photographer friend, and his friend, Chai, arranged the klong and river trips and my friend Tashi from Bhutan and I visited Wat Po separately.

The klong trip was truly an experience. As Bill, Makoto and Wayne will attest from our trip to the cooking school in 2000, traveling via a small longtail is definitely different. The longtail this year was even smaller than the one in 2000 and with two guys my size, Chai from Phuket, and the driver, it was a full boat indeed. The small boats are all fueled by propane. We were pretty low in the water and with a very shallow draft, sitting was cross legged or with your feet stretched out in front. It only took about 5 minutes and both legs and feet were asleep. We traveled the klongs, had lunch at a local restaurant, and saw the canal life in Bangkok. The wats (temples) abound in Bangkok and we were fortunate to stop at one of the larger ones. It is off the tourist trail and we found it easy to talk to the monks and people and were invited into several closed areas and allowed to photograph. I credit my time with Tewfic on earlier trips with giving me the ability to strike up conversations wherever we are visiting and taking the time to get to know the people we are meeting. So many new doors are opened in this fashion and the experience is much more rewarding.

We were certainly taking our time getting back out to the Chao Praya river and Chai asked the driver to go a little faster. There was a concern, according to the driver, that not enough tide would not have come in to allow us to get through the last small canal and back out to the main waterway. We stalled three times in the narrow, shallow canal and the driver had to get out of the boat to clear the propeller. There are not enough baht in the Kingdom of Thailand to have gotten me out of that boat and into the backwaters of that canal. At last he was able to gain some headway and once he was up to speed, we made it through the canal. With the higher speed, however, came the splashing water onto our faces. My heartfelt thanks to Chee, my co-worker, who presented me with a "buff" that I was able to hold over my nose and mouth while getting splashed. When the water dried on my white shirt, there were green spots everywhere. Talk about a canal teeming with all sorts of critters. Thanks again Chee!

Tashi and I set out the next day to visit the Grand Palace on our own. As luck would have it, the King was on the grounds and no one was allowed to visit. Normally if a tuk-tuk driver says that the Grand Palace is closed because the monks are praying, it is because they want to steer you to a tuk-tuk ride you take it with a grain of salt and walk right into the entrance and visit anyways. When the police advise you that the grounds are closed, the grounds are definitely closed and no one gets through the gates.

As an alternate, we set out for Wat Po to see the Reclining Bhudda. Wat Po was packed with the normal amount of visitors plus the splillover from the Grand Palace. We walked the grounds for a while and then took the boat back to the sky train and the hotel. I showed Tashi a bit of Bangkok after dark that night. A real eye opener.

On Wednesday, David, Chai, Tashi, and I set out from the Saphin Taksin river terminal and visited several local wats that are just off the Chao Praya river. At one of the wats, we encountered a collection of antique Bhuddas that appeared to be all museum quality. I will certainly be looking up the collection to see just what we had stumbled upon. Judging from the icy cold air conditioning in the temperature controlled room and the number of security cameras (counted 4 that I could see), the collection is very valuable and again, off the normal tourist trail. These are the finds that make travel so much fun.

For dinner last night, we ate on Kao San road, the jumping off point for most of the backpackers who are traveling in southeast asia. Great grilled shrimp, morning glory, fried salty cashews and ice cold Tiger beer.

Today is Thursday and we had planned to go to the Siam Water Park but I had had enough sun for a while and the water park will be saved for a future event.

It is off to Bali in the morning for a couple of days of relaxation before meeting up with Tewfic and the rest of the photographers in Ubud on 1 August. He is already there and says all is in readiness.

Good food, good friends, good weather, good photography - Does it get any better than this?

I hope to have some photos up on the blog later today.


No comments: